Italy vs Uruguay World Cup 2014: Luis Suarez takes swipe at England before Uruguay set sights on Italian job

 

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What Luis Suarez has done once he will have to do again. His remarkable display of skill and willpower against England was one half of the only equation that would let Uruguay escape from this group of death with their lives. The other comes this afternoon against Italy.

In the wake of that extraordinary display in Sao Paulo, Suarez made some strange statements implying it had been a payback of sorts. “People in England laughed at my attitude over the last few years,” he said. “I’d like to see what they think now.”

Here, he was asked how a nation that had voted him Footballer of the Year twice in a single season could be accused of disrespecting him. “You work in England, you should know what was in the papers,” he retorted. “You know that before the match, the media started making fun of me. You are in the media, you should know what happened.”

He has not forgiven and he has not forgotten. This may be because the victory he conjured over England has released a dam burst of emotions about his treatment over accusations he racially abused Patrice Evra and the cold fact that he bit Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.

Or it may be part of an exit strategy; that he will demand to break the contract with Liverpool he signed last year because it is now impossible for him to live in England – not that he will find the press in Madrid or Barcelona any less intense.

This was not his first public appearance of the week. On the surface, Diego Maradona and Suarez are similar men. Their football and their cunning was learnt on some unforgiving streets. They each scored two goals to knock England out of World Cups.

Suarez was a natural for Maradona to invite on to De Zurda, the chat show he co-hosts on Argentine television. The interview was a bit of a love-in. Maradona may be many things but he is no Jeremy Paxman. “May I congratulate you on being one of the three finest strikers in the world?” was his opening question. “Uruguay’s oxygen,” he called him.

“That match meant everything,” Suarez said of the England game. “It meant everything because, had we lost, we would have been out, because of everything I went through in England and because I was coming back from an operation.”

Suarez added that it touched him how deeply his manager, Oscar Tabarez, had believed in him. Tabarez’s great gamble in Sao Paulo came off spectacularly. Not only did Suarez unhinge the England defence; his decision to bring Nicolas Lodeiro and Alvaro Gonzalez into his midfield also paid off. There will be no further changes. Here, as in Sao Paulo, the only result that will do is a win.

Tabarez was, as he sometimes is, in gentle, philosophical mood last night. Asked if he was nervous, he replied: “There is no room for fear in football. In life you can be afraid for someone you love but this is a game. The match will be characterised not by fear but by motivation. To play Italy is a gift from heaven and the motivation will be to beat one of the world’s great teams.”

For Italy things are considerably more equivocal. A draw would keep them alive in this World Cup but after their limp, barely focused display against Costa Rica, their manager, Cesare Prandelli, knows he cannot trust in the same players for a match he called  “the most important match of my professional career”.

Prandelli will change personnel and he will change the system, deploying three centre-halves in a 3-5-2 with Mario Balotelli playing alongside Torino’s Ciro Immobile – a combination many believe does not function well together.

 

The mood in the Italian camp has been a determination that, if they are go out, they will not do so “cowering in a bunker” as Gazzetta dello Sport put it. There is also a realisation that they have been here so many times before.

“This is my 10th major tournament with the national team and in only one can I remember us having qualified from the group with a game to spare – and that was in a Confederations Cup,” Gianluigi Buffon remarked. “We are used to this. We know what the critics and the columnists have been writing and, though some of it is justified, the only people who can get us out of this situation are the players.

“This has been a group of iron and nobody anticipated Costa Rica would top it after two matches. But in this situation Prandelli is a master.” In Euro 2012 he proved it, overseeing a stunning display to overcome Germany in the semi-finals and something similar is required now.

And yet they still appeared to be looking for excuses to explain their defeat by Costa Rica, still talking about the injustice of being asked to kick off against a Latin American nation at 1pm in the heat of north-east Brazil – just as they will do this afternoon. Andrea Pirlo talked about “two World Cups; one in the north one in the south.” Italy have played all their games in the heat of northern Brazil.

Nevertheless, the rain was streaming down over Natal as Pirlo spoke and the forecast is for the game to be played in rain and cloud. For Italy, there are now no more excuses.

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